This post is old but will remain on the front page for the time being.
140313. Jeff Jenkins posted these questions and others recently at Ask Hacker News:
What happens to older developers? Is there a plateau in pay? Is there a drop in pay switching jobs after a certain number of years? Is becoming a specialist rather than a generalist the answer?
To read the original post, click here. Note: The link was valid as of March 2014. However, it may have broken since then.
This is my response:
Developers who go on long enough are expected to obtain high-level titles by their 50s or to retire at about that time.
I'd like to discuss an issue that you might not have thought about: What's going to happen if you lose your job?
Employment in the 50s can be problematic. If somebody is skilled and employed, and has a high-level title or is a specialist or has useful connections, they should be able to obtain a new position.
Otherwise, they might go from well-off to homeless. It happens. I'm 55, my resume is pretty good, and I was worth $1M a decade ago. I'm a transient now. I've got some medical issues, no medical care, and no dentists. Potential jobs are largely unskilled physical labor, which I'm not able to do.
I'm taking a shot at tutoring. However, I don't expect that to provide more than gas money. The head of an admin assistant firm said that I can't be a secretary unless I already am one.
Two people considered sending me to care for elderly relatives, but we didn't proceed. My title at one of those positions was going to be “poop scooper”.
Don't let this happen to you. For what it's worth, here's my advice:
1. Don't fall off of the employment ladder.
2. Become a specialist. Try to remain broad enough, though, that you don't become obsolete.
3. Build a network of people. Make it a large one.
4. Diversify your investments.
5. While you're employed, don't let medical issues, even minor ones, go untreated for long. If you lose your job and your assets, you'll lose medical care too and the issues may become serious.
6. Be kind to people. But don't be a fool. Most people that you help are not going to return the favor.
Regarding specialists, I did recruiting for a while in 2011 and I can confirm that the filters are weighted against generalists.
I've spent about 35 years myself as a generalist. My jobs called for it. The place where I spent most of my career took any project that came along, code of any type. At a dot-com that followed, after the money ran out, I handled all of the technical roles; IT, websites, development, support, documentation, etc. I was able to do a bit of everything.
Later on, none of this made a difference. There are few job listings that say “a bit of everything”.
After the dot-com shut down, 2003, I made $1M in the stock market. Lost most of it afterwards and reentered the job market. Learned that middle-age generalists were not in high demand.
In my case, there were other factors that won't apply to you. It's a story for another time. But if you're a generalist who falls off of the ladder in middle age, you can expect things like this:
“With a resume like that, why isn't he a CTO? Why doesn't he even have a job?”
You'll be asked questions about algorithms that you haven't thought about for 30 years. Or you'll go through coding tests under adverse conditions that don't allow you to show what you can do.
Plan ahead. Understand that the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.
My own resume is located at:
These are my links. Yes, the technical site needs Twitter Bootstrap :P
- Technical site (oldcoder.org)
- My GitHub
- My LinkedIn
- My Twitter
- OldCoder Nerdcore Song
Regards, Robert (the Old Coder)